County Commissioner discusses energy’s challengesWritten by Christy Martinez
“The biggest thing from a county standpoint is that it’s going into areas that haven’t had traditional mineral development,” he says. “It’s going into some different areas in the north country, and it’s moving a little farther east.”
The North Platte River divides Converse County into the north and south country, which are marked by agricultural differences.
“The south side is more mountainous, and the north is high plans. The two areas have different winters and different operations,” says Willox.
Willox grew up as the fourth generation on a cow/calf operation south of Douglas.
“We were the second ranch that Wagonhound bought,” he says of the large landowner in southern Converse County. “Ten years ago, as we looked at the agricultural environment, we were looking at the job market and estate planning, and selling was the world’s easiest economic decision and the world’s hardest emotional decision.”
“Converse County has always done well with the mineral industry, but agriculture has always been the staple,” he adds. “Energy is a great supplemental income for those who are getting it. A lot of times agriculture is on the edge, so that can be softened with a royalty payment, which makes it easier to get a new tractor, put in new corrals or develop a new water system.”
Of the energy development, Willox says the county is finding the impact to be the most on the traditional farm to market roads that are becoming heavy industrial.
“I was visiting with a guy who had a daily average traffic load of 40, and he’s talking about putting a gravel pit out there with the potential for 150 vehicles per day. That’s a challenge,” he notes. “From a commissioner’s standpoint, our biggest issue has been roads. We’re trying to get ahead of those and maintain them for traditional users and also recognize the mineral companies have a job to do, as well.”
Of the tax base that will eventually be generated for the good of the county, Willox says it takes 18 months to two years for the taxes to catch up with the impact.
“What they produce in 2011 is taxed in 2012 and paid the end of 2012 or in 2013,” he explains. “There’s also still speculation in the county, so that’s part of the challenge.”
While Campbell County went through coalbed methane and Sublette County has the Jonah Field, Willox says Converse County hasn’t been hit as hard, and is working with the companies to come up with solutions to the development challenges.
In addition to roads, another challenge the county is facing is emergency management.
“An influx of people means an increased call for emergency services. It’s not a perfect science to understand where the workers will be, how they’re here and what their needs will be, but it will put an additional demand on emergency services,” he explains.
He adds that another challenge, with regard to “man camps,” is that Converse County is one of the few in Wyoming without zoning.
“The man camps already exist – they’re just small ones. There are two kinds of man camps – the centralized, located man camp that people traditionally think of, and what we’ve got, which are many man camps, with every rig site having 15 to 20 people living on-site. To date there hasn’t been a major push for a big one. We hear lots of rumors, and there’s lots of discussion,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll develop a mechanism to get the information on where they’re at so we can deal with the emergency services.”
Willox says those emergency services won’t be needed disproportionate to the rest of the county – it’s just a fact of concentrating a group of people.
“The man camps today are different than the man camps of the ‘70s. Many have a zero alcohol policy, and a zero opposite sex visiting. They hot bunk, and these guys are working and getting a couple hours off. They’re working hard and getting paid hard, and the skill level has gone up – there are as many computers on a rig today as there used to be wrenches,“ he comments.
Although the biggest learning curve has come for small acreage owners who are now dealing with mineral leasing, Willox says the larger ag operations are dealing with seismic crews, directional drilling and split estates.
“What the large ag operations are facing is the concentration of activity,” he says. “They want to have a pad and go four directions, and the volume of trucks and product going out is nothing like it’s been prior. Between the frac tanks and production, the traffic is significantly higher even for the people who have dealt with development in the past.”
“We’re not booming, but we’re sure growing, and so far it’s manageable but it’s tight and we’re getting through it,” says Willox of housing and infrastructure. “Between Glenrock and Douglas there are very few rentals, and housing prices are working up, but they’re not back to our highs. The biggest push is for small industrial, for all the companies who want a yard to park their rigs and trucks.”
“Infrastructure wise, Douglas is ok, but we’re a little tight on water. They’re selling gallons and gallons to the frac tanks,” he adds.
Of the future of the county, Willox says it’s all dependent on the energy play.
“Ag continues to be the staple – the steady one that’s been here. Hopefully in this growth cycle we’ll be able to attract some companies that aren’t as closely tied to the mineral industry,” he says. “My crystal ball that I had three years ago doesn’t look anything like what I see today.”
Deep roots: Fitzhughs’ history influences todayWritten by Saige Albert
John Fitzhugh was a doctor who worked in Fort Laramie during the winter of 1849. He stayed there because of a smallpox outbreak at the Fort, later continuing to California in search of gold, where he struck his fortune. His son, Gordon V. Fitzhugh, came to Wyoming as part of the large cattle drives into the territory. He participated in eight trail drives before ending up south of Douglas in 1884. Gordon V. raised his family on the land and his son, Jim’s father, Gordon M. took over.
Today, Marilyn and Jim live on the Fitzhughs’ ranch with their son Gordon Dana and his wife Bobbe, who help to run the cow-calf operation. Their daughter, Kristeen Elaine, lives in Alaska with her family.
“We used to run Hereford cattle,” says Jim. “We were up at Midland years ago and a man had Red Angus bulls that topped the whole mess – they outgained everything and outperformed everything.”
“We started with Red Angus in ’74, and we were originally going to run red cows and put Hereford bulls on them to raise red baldies, but it didn’t work like black cattle,” continues Jim, “so we gave that up and went straight red. We’ve been straight Red Angus since about 1995.”
Jim notes that the calves do very well and he is pleased with them. Each year, they average between 660 and 670 pounds by delivery and gain on average 2.75 pounds per day. He also says that they also withstand the heat better, are better mothers and are less prone to pinkeye than the Herefords.
The Fitzhughs have consigned their cattle to Northern Video Auction, sold in August and delivered in September, for the past 15 years, and they say they have good results.
“One buyer has purchased our steer calves every year for the past 14 years, and he pays the top price, so that speaks something,” adds Jim. “If they weren’t doing well, he wouldn’t buy them.”
In selecting their cattle, Jim has high standards to ensure good quality yearling heifers, noting, “The heifer calves are ratioed by themselves, but after the first year they are ratioed with the rest of the cattle. The old cows get culled if they don’t meet that same ratio.”
“By the time they get to be three years old, we usually have about 65 of the original 75 left,” says Jim. “Some of them aren’t good mothers, or some of them don’t milk well, so we cull them.”
The Fitzhughs calve in February and have nearly finished constructing a new calving shed for this year.
“We don’t get much sleep for six weeks, but they calve fast,” says Marilyn, continuing that, when they were first married and working for Jim’s father, their calving season was nearly three months.
They also calve in several herds, with the two-, three- and four-year-olds on the ranch and the older cows on their leased land.
After branding in April, cows are moved up to breeding pastures and turned out on summer range in June. By the end of November, or as soon as Jim has to start feeding the cows, they bring them down to the winter pastures closer to home.
“The Red Angus have done well,” says Jim. “We’re happy with them.”
“Jim has really built up a nice herd,” adds Marilyn.
Jim sees that a number of things have changed in recent years and technology has advanced, transforming cattle operations.
“When we first started, dad would have never thought of pregnancy testing a cow. All they did was give them a shot of black leg,” says Jim. “Now they have good vaccines and things that have really eliminated a lot of the sickness in the cattle.”
He also notes that much larger cattle migrations are seen today than in the past.
“They winter cattle in California where they have grass, and then ship them to the Laramie Plains for the summer,” explains Jim. “Think of the diseases that come with those cattle.”
The use of new technologies, like ultrasound and blood testing, are a great tool, according to Jim, and should be used to alleviate some of the uncertainties.
“We have to close every door that we can,” says Jim, “and even still, there is quite a bit of a draft underneath it.”
The family has taken on a number of projects to improve their ranch and production. The ranch was awarded a lifetime conservation award by the Converse County Conservation District for their efforts.
“I think we ought to be caretakers of the land,” says Jim.
A major obstacle with the ranch for many years was getting water to all the pastures, so they have installed a number of large water tanks on the property.
Marilyn says, “We have a spring down by the creek, and we pump water up to a big tank. It gravity feeds out of there to 10 tanks in seven pastures.”
That project involved the installation of nearly 36,000 feet of pipeline.
“In 2001, Jim put in another 9,000 feet of pipeline on leased land. It was 21 days’ worth of digging, but that gave us water up on top where there was just a reservoir,” says Marilyn. “When his dad had the other ranch, they put in about 20 tank springs to get water.”
Jim adds that they worked with the NRCS to offset some of the costs of the project. The NRCS also helped in drafting plans. They also worked to improve their range and pasture land to support more animals and wildlife.
“We sprayed 5,000 acres of sagebrush in 1973,” says Jim. “It was the best thing we have ever done.”
They also burned 2,000 acres of sagebrush on their leased ranch. Since these efforts, Jim notes that grass has replaced the sagebrush, making the pastures more productive.
“It’s amazing what you can do with burning or spraying the sagebrush,” explains Jim. “This ranch wouldn’t carry 125 head of yearling heifers, and now we can run 200 mother cows on it. We just didn’t have the grass before.”
Jim also sees inflation as a particularly difficult challenge.
“I think the biggest challenge we find today is staying ahead of inflation,” says Jim, saying cattle prices are higher than he’d ever dreamed of, but so are their expenses. “Steel posts that we used to buy for two dollars a piece are now six, and a good corner post that used to cost seven dollars is now $19. Inflation is our biggest fight.”
Because of high prices for inputs, Jim notes that those ranchers without minerals or energy on their property do what they do very well.
“All ranchers that are left are good operators, or they wouldn’t be in business,” he continues. “The man that doesn’t have minerals has to be a good rancher and a good steward of the land to survive in this economy.”
Jim has proven that he uses his land well and is able to survive as a rancher, also noting that he enjoys the work and his cattle. Marilyn echoes the sentiment, saying they like to be busy.
“The biggest joy in all ranching is in the spring, and we can’t enjoy it because we’re too busy,” says Jim passionately. “That’s when everything comes to life. The green grass comes and the flowers bloom. We have newborn calves or lambs. It does something to me that you can’t see. Really, that’s the time when we should enjoy what’s there.”
Remnants of the past “The cavalry that came from Fort Fetterman to Fort Laramie used to come through here,” says Marilyn Fitzhugh of a piece of their winter pasture. “They used to have a saloon across the road.”
She adds that Oregon Trail ruts run across the property, heading toward Cold Springs and Glenrock.
When her husband Jim began plowing the land and doing other work on their property, they found hundreds of old bottles.
“Jim came back with a box of whiskey bottles that came out of the ground,” adds Marilyn.
When the couple installed new pipes for their house, Marilyn says they found inkbottles, dolls and hairbrushes, also noting that she has five-gallon buckets full of broken china.
“We found a lot of the heavy stuff that they had,” explains Marilyn, noting that it was likely people along the Oregon Trail had begun discarding personal belongings to lighten the load. “We’ve found everything – there was even a conch shell that comes from the Mediterranean. We really had fun.”
She adds that for nearly two months she spent a number of hours digging in the hard ground using a screwdriver to save all the bottles they could. Among her findings, Marilyn has more than 10 different types of inkbottles, including a quart size ink jug.
“I found 10 different ink bottles,” says Marilyn, “and not-a-one was alike.”
Her vast collection of bottles includes a wide array of sizes, colors and styles.
Marilyn says she enjoys collecting these bits of history, commenting, “It was the most that I have had here – just pure fun.”
The advantage of cattle and sheep: Boner family maintains diversified operationWritten by Saige Albert
“My family on both sides has been in ag their whole lives,” comments Brad. “I’m the sixth generation to live in Converse County on my mom’s side, and I was born on a ranch north of Lusk.”
Brad’s grandparents homesteaded north of Lusk in the early 1900s. When their children, Brad’s father and uncles, decided to expand, they bought land near Glenrock.
“My dad and his brothers bought this place in 1964, and later split up the two ranches between the brothers,” explains Brad. “I was four when we moved here from Lusk. In 1992 and 1993, we bought the farm at Orin Junction and another ranch north of Douglas.”
Brad’s dad, Bob, and his brothers Rob and Jeff are also partners in the ranching operations, and Laurie’s family also ranches and owns land just west of the Boners’ property. The operations run as four entities: M Diamond Angus, M Diamond Livestock, Cole Creek Ranch and Boner Bros.
Brad also notes the family has held the tradition of raising both cattle and sheep since the beginning.
“We’ve found over time that we can run between 25 and 30 percent more animal units by running both cattle and sheep together than if we just ran one species or the other,” explains Brad. “The grasses and environment in eastern Wyoming dictate that.”
Brad continues that the cattle utilize the bigger grasses while sheep prefer sagebrush and finer grasses.
“We’ve always had both. My uncle in Lusk just sold his sheep, and it was the first time since they homesteaded that place they haven’t had sheep,” adds Brad. “I think we were fortunate enough to be able to experience the benefits of cattle and sheep combined.”
Their sheep are raised for lamb and wool. Lamb receipts make up the biggest percentage of sales on the sheep, with about 85 percent of the total revenue coming from lamb sales and 15 percent generated from wool.
“The ewes we raise are considered ‘wool breeds,’ but about 40 percent of the white face ewes get bred to black face bucks to raise what is called a smut faced lamb,” explains Laurie. “The rest are bred to white face bucks for replacement ewe lambs.”
Both Brad and Laurie grew up in the Casper area, and Laurie’s family land borders Brad’s on the west. The contiguous properties provide conditions that allow for good range conditions year round.
The Boners calve their heifers at the end of February, while the cows calve mostly in March, and the calves are sold via video sale or private treaty.
“We bring the registered cattle over to my mom’s land in the fall and run there until we have to start calving the end of February,” says Laurie.
“Occasionally, we’ll feed our steers out,” says Brad. “We look at what we think is going on in the market place and try to make a wise decision. We’re not afraid to feed our calves, though.”
He also spends numerous hours studying the genetics of his cowherd to improve them.
“It’s a lot more fun to work with the livestock if you like what you are looking at,” says Brad. “I have to live with them, so I’d rather like what I’m looking at.”
Brad prefers to run Angus because he notes that English breeds are a better fit for the eastern Wyoming environment.
“We run on 40 to 50 acres per cow, and one or two years out of 10 it is pretty dry,” explains Brad. “I believe their fleshing ability and mothering ability are more conducive to the range conditions here than the Continental breeds.”
Brad also notes, “I think in certain situations there are some advantages in three-way crossbreeds or using a continental breed as a terminal sire, and there are some people who do a good job of that.”
To diversify their operation on the cattle side, the Boner family runs a herd of registered cattle and has a bull sale on the fourth Friday in March each year. The 2012 sale marks the 20th year of the sale.
“Through the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative, we are completely vertically integrated on the sheep side of our operation. We are producers, feeders, packers and wholesalers,” says Brad. “As they say, we own our lambs from our gate to the consumers’ plate.”
The sheep aspect of their operation has stood the test of time, although the sheep markets have caused a significant decrease in the amount of sheep production seen in recent years in Wyoming.
“The markets have caused the sheep business to not be too lucrative, but that has changed recently,” says Brad. “Someone said that, at one time, every sheepherder’s dream was to be the last sheep herder around, and we almost got there. Hopefully we’ll see a little turn around in numbers and things will start to get better.”
Brad also adds that the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative has helped to ease market fluctuation and eliminate that challenge.
Regardless, both the sheep and cattle industry have brought a number of trials to Boner Ranch.
“As a whole, the biggest challenge that the sheep industry faces is predators,” comments Brad. “The next challenge that we have is that some of our infrastructure is starting to go away – things like truckers and sheep shearers. As the industry shrank, it is harder and harder to keep those people viable, so we lost some of them.”
“Every year, it seems like there is a new challenge,” Brad adds. “This year it’s the cost of feedstuffs that have proven to be the challenge.”
Brad explains, because of the droughts in the southern United States, hay isn’t available for purchase.
“We try to get by on as little hay as possible during the winter,” comments Brad. “No matter what you might want to pay for hay, it is just not here right now. It’s a big risk and something we have to keep in mind.”
Despite the challenge, Brad says they work to manage their range the best they can, despite environmental conditions, and to combat the challenges they adjust their carrying capacities.
His passion for the operation helps it to remain strong.
“It’s all fun. We spend a lot of time with our livestock, and we really enjoy both the cows and the sheep,” he says.
Brad and Laurie also have three children – Braden, 21, and twins Meghan and Ryan, 18. Meghan is a senior in high school, looking to continue her education at the University of Wyoming and study dentistry, and Braden is a member of the Wyoming National Guard and is currently deployed in Afghanistan.
Ryan, also a senior in high school, is looking forward to attending UW and studying ag business, with the intent of returning to the ranch. He currently runs his own small flock of registered sheep.
Laurie says, “Right now, things are awesome.”
“For most of us who are involved in agriculture, it’s our passion. The good days outweigh the bad days. The positives are numerous, and it’s what we love to do,” says Brad. “We get to get up every morning and do what we love to do, and we count our lucky stars for that.”
Ag perspectives: Douglas attorney helps landowners with energy issuesWritten by Christy Martinez
As she grew up on ranches in the Big Horn Basin, Heather says she watched her parents and other ranchers try to communicate with lawyers in what looked like different languages. That’s what led her to be an ag lawyer who now works with ranchers on an everyday basis.
“My parents had to use a couple attorneys growing up, and I could always tell they didn’t understand ag and ranching, and couldn’t do an effective job,” says Heather. “I think that, to be an effective lawyer in most ag issues, you have to have a full understanding of ranching, and particularly in what I do now.”
Having lived with her family at Cowley, Jeffery City and Bill, Heather says she feels like she’s lived in every back-road area of Wyoming.
Today, Heather’s time is occupied with oil and gas leasing in Converse County, along with some uranium contracts.
“I do general ag law, which is more of a specialization in the type of client rather than the type of law,” explains Heather. “I do everything from estate planning to LLCs to real estate contracts and grazing leases. Being located in Douglas right now, 90 percent of my work deals with large mineral development companies, negotiating surface use agreements, oil and gas leases and those kinds of things.”
With a master’s in ag economics combined with her ag background, Heather says her move to Douglas in the midst of coalbed methane development was the perfect fit at the perfect time.
“I took over an existing practice, and at this point a small percentage of my client base I inherited from the existing firm. Most of my clients found me by word-of-mouth, and when people understand I have an ag background they feel more comfortable,” she says.
“I jumped in, and it did take some learning, and that learning curve continues because we always have new issues that keep coming up that we have to address,” she says.
The latest new issue is horizontal drilling.
“Previously we’d never seen horizontal drilling in Converse County, or multiple well bores on the same site,” she says. “I’ve been dealing with those, and the biggest deal is the sheer volume we’re seeing now in the amount of development that’s going on. We’re busier than we’ve ever been, and we thought we were busy before the boom started.”
Heather says her office focuses on addressing her clients’ individual concerns, while still efficiently negotiating agreements in a timely manner.
“I negotiate with ‘the dark side,’ which is oil companies, generally, although here in Converse County it could also be a wind company, uranium, a powerline, pipeline or coalbed methane,” she states. “Our goals are to minimize the damage to each rancher’s operation as much as possible, while maximizing the amount of money they get out of it.”
As of last Oct. 1, Heather has been practicing in Douglas for nine years, and she says she’d like to hire another attorney.
“It’s really hard to find the right attorney who wants to live in a small town. They don’t think there’s the glamour of practicing in a larger town, and they mistakenly believe there’s not as much money to be made as a small-town practitioner,” she explains. “We would love to find additional help from someone who has an ag background and wants to work in a small town.”
Of how her ranch background has helped her in the ag law realm, Heather says it’s not the operational knowledge that’s her greatest asset, but her lack of fear of hard work.
“That is the single biggest thing – not being afraid to put in the long hours to get the job done,” says Heather. “Second is that you understand the issues. There’s a cost savings to your clients, because they feel comfortable that they don’t have to read and understand every word of the agreement, so they’re free to focus on their operations.”
She gives as an example seismic activity in a certain pasture during lambing season.
“The clients feel comfortable I can spot these things, and they don’t have to worry about reading the agreement,” she says.
Heather also works on uranium contracts – she’s one of the few attorneys in the United States who represents landowners in uranium issues.
“Because one of my clients has the largest in situ uranium mine in the United States on their place, I do quite a bit of uranium,” she says. “The rules are already written in oil and gas development, and we only have so much negotiation power, because the groundwork is already in place. With uranium, when it started again three or four years ago there hadn’t been any leasing for 30 years, so we got to rewrite some of the rules. In a lot of ways the agreements became more favorable to my clients, because we could disregard how things had always been done because it had been 30 years.”
Of energy development in Converse County, Heather says she still sees activity climbing.
“I think the reason it’s still climbing is because the BLM is so far behind on approving permits. I have a stack of 40 surface use agreements waiting for me on my desk, so I tend to disagree with the articles that claim it’s more of a rumored boom rather than an actual boom,” she notes.
Maintaining a lifestyle: Moore family ranches in northern Converse CountyWritten by Christy Martinez
“The Ogallala was started by an English cattle company in the late 1800s. They trailed cattle up from Ogallala, Neb. and turned them loose north of the Platte River at Fort Fetterman, and the next spring they sent a crew out, telling them to go as far north as they could and get a headquarters built before winter set in,” says Frank. “Everything north of the Platte River was Indian country, but they got to the Ogallala and built a headquarters.”
“My great grandfather went to work for them, but most of the big cattle companies from England went broke in the late 1800s with a real bad winter,” says Frank. “They were all told what a wonderful climate Wyoming had, and that they could turn cattle out and the winters were easy and there was grass everywhere. They found out that wasn’t always the case, and most of them went broke or gave up. They lost thousands of cattle.”
However, their failure led to the startup of many independent ranches by those who had worked for the large cattle outfits.
“My great granddad started on the ranch, and my granddad was born on the ranch,” says Frank. “My granddad, ‘Daddy Ock,’ had the philosophy that if a piece of ground came up for sale, he would try to buy it, and that’s how he put our main homestead together. He had 10 kids – nine boys and a girl. One son died as a young man, but Daddy Ock helped all the others get started in the ranching business.”
Frank’s dad was the middle son, and due to the timing of events he was the one who ended up with the home place.
“Our dad expanded the ranch. He bought the Spearhead where we are now in 1972. It was a huge neighboring ranch that four or five ranchers split up, and Elaine and I moved out here in 1976,” says Frank of the place, which had belonged to Herman Werner, Elaine’s great uncle.
Having been married at 19 and 20 years of age, Elaine and Frank began running the ranch as their own in 1978.
“I have two brothers – we’re triplets – and we had split the ranch into three and each took a piece,” notes Frank. “After the tough winter of 1978 and 1979 we started looking for a place that would be more kind to livestock, and we found a ranch in Artesia, N.M. Parker moved down there, while Vern and I expanded our operations here to take in what he had been running.”
Frank says he and Elaine have run cows and sheep since they started, and in 1992 the ranch diversified when Frank got into politics and the kids were going to school in Douglas and spending most of their winters there.
“I didn’t have as much time to be here, so we cut back our cowherd and started running summer cattle,” says Frank. “Since 1992 we’ve been running yearlings for the same outfit out of Minatare, Neb.”
In 1998 a neighboring ranch came up for sale, and the Moores expanded again, which meant they needed to run more yearlings.
“We thought we’d run 3,000 to 3,500 head of yearlings, but that increased up to 6,500 head at the most. We usually ran between 4,000 and 6,000 head every summer, and usually in one bunch,” explains Frank.
To accommodate those numbers, the Moores put in a 35-mile pipeline system to make it more efficient.
“It’s pretty interesting to see 5,000 yearlings in one bunch moving from one pasture to the next,” says Frank. “We’ve had as many as 28 trucks sitting here at one time to load yearlings.”
When loading the yearlings, Frank says it usually takes between 70 and 100 trucks spaced over a four-day period.
“That is the one time we pray for dry weather,” says Elaine. “We usually have a harder time in the spring, trying to get the trucks in, as many times we don’t know until that afternoon if we’ll be able to do it with the weather.”
“The yearlings have worked great for years. It’s a profitable business for the ranch, in the numbers we have, but it’s stressful. We have to be constantly aware of the water and fences. If we have a problem, it’s a big problem,” says Frank. “When they get out it’s not two or three, it’s 500 or 600, and when the water goes down it has to be fixed right now. We can’t move them someplace else or expect the other windmill to keep up.”
“The nice thing about running the yearlings and rotational grazing is that, on a year like this, we can really take advantage of intensive grazing,” continues Frank. “The last 10 years have been droughty and haven’t been that much fun for running yearlings or anything else. This year we took them out of pastures with more grass left than what we went into some years.”
Of the sheep the ranch has always run, Frank says, “Our granddad was one of the first to bring in woven wire and started fencing pastures rather than using herders and open range.“
The Moores use pasture lambing and no herders.
“That cuts down our input costs and our lamb percentages proportionately. There are some trade-offs, but we get along great with it, and sheep have always been a part of this ranch and they complement the cattle,” says Frank. “They’ll go places where there’s not enough water for cows, and they’ll go in after the cows and still find good feed.”
“The biggest problem with anything in ag is the markets, so we started the Mountain States Lamb Co-op to get a handle on it,” says Frank, who was in on the founding of the co-op and remains actively involved as president of the board.
“For several years it took a tremendous amount of my time,” he says of the co-op. “It would take as much time as I gave it, but now we have a great CEO in New York who runs the meat company, and great help running the office in Douglas, so I’ve stepped back some.“
About three years ago, management of the Spearhead Ranch was turned over to two of Frank and Elaine’s three sons – Keith and David – and they now have five grandkids living on the ranch.
“I’ve always been very attached to the ranch, and I always knew this is what I wanted to do,” says David. “We feel very blessed to have the opportunity to do this. It’s not easy, but it’s a great way to make a living.”
Frank says his sons are moving the cowherd to lower-maintenance management by calving in late May and June.
“We don’t grow any hay, so we have to buy all the supplemental feed we give the cows, and it didn’t seem like it made sense,” says Frank of calving in February and March.
“Right now we’re both in the process of building our herds,” says David. “We don’t pamper our cows, and we’ve gradually eased into feeding them less and less. We’re trying to make the ranch as efficient as we can, and that’s the only way you can run a ranch nowadays – we’ve got to treat it like a business.”
Currently David and Keith are keeping all their heifers, and Frank comments that they’re striving to produce a low-input cowherd, and they also keep their steer calves on grass with minimum supplement over the winter.
“This is good grass country, and they put weight on once the grass starts growing,” notes Frank.
The Moores also operate a hunting business, which they say is a major part of the ranch.
“We’re nationally recognized as one of the top archery antelope outfitters in the country, and we did it as a way to generate extra revenue to make the ranch work,” says Frank. “We have to deal with hunters during hunting season, and it makes more sense to deal with them on your schedule and when they’re paying you to be there.”
When speaking of Converse County’s recent upswing in energy development, and the accompanying activity it brings, Frank says, “One of the advantages of living this far out is you didn’t have to put up with much of that. If we have the disadvantages of living out here, and not the advantages of living out here, it will lose its appeal to our kids and grandkids, and that’s our concern for the future of ranching in Converse County.
“My goal is to give the boys the opportunity to come back if they want,” says David of the Moore family ranch’s future. “It needs to be a place and a business they want to come back to. If they turn this country inside out with energy development and we’re not living this lifestyle, then this is really just a really inconvenient place to live.”